Sustainability must combine environmental concerns with poverty reduction | George Bouma

12 Jun 2013

flood waters in Bangladesh Addressing poverty-environment issues is essential for achieving sustainable development. Above, children in Rwanda. (Photo: PEI)

With 2015 around the corner, one question dominates the global development agenda: what will replace the Millennium Development Goals?

Twelve years on from the historic Millennium Declaration, indicators show that our failure to protect our environmental systems is undermining much of the progress that has been made in helping the world’s poorest communities. The stories from around the globe are all too familiar. Small-holder farmers in Tanzania have been suffering smaller yields as a result of soil degradation; communities in Bangladesh are struggling to cope with increasingly erratic weather conditions as a result of climate change; indigenous peoples in Latin America and South-East Asia are searching for alternative livelihoods where high levels of deforestation have robbed them of their principal economic assets.

It is now clear that the post-2015 agenda must tackle the relationship between poverty and sustainability if it is to bring about long-lasting change.

Efforts to bring the three strands of sustainable development (social, environmental and economic) into a single policy lens have a long history, dating back to the 1980s and ranging up to more recent Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. Despite progress in many areas, such plans have struggled to bring about enduring and institutional change.

Often, international institutions created comprehensive national plans about sustainability without involving the target countries’ finance or central planning ministries. Meanwhile, poverty-environment initiatives devised by the donor community often led to many separate micro-projects and “solutions” rather than changes to the systems and government policies in place.  

While the international community is trying to agree upon adequate conceptual frameworks, a closer look at a number of countries working with the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) shows that governments have already taken up the challenge in tangible and practical ways.

Governments in more than 20 countries are showing that PEI is the kind of initiative needed: it combines environmental concerns with poverty reduction, it assists developing countries in very practical ways to plan and develop a greener economy, it works through existing structures rather than setting up new ones, and it responds to the country-specific requirements rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all model from outside.

Inspire us: As 2015 approaches, how can we ensure that poverty-environment issues are taken into account in national development planning?

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